Delayed environmental review at heart of Makua conflict
A federal judge is weighing a request by the Army to resume live-fire training at Makua Valley.
A FEDERAL judge's reluctance
to set aside a court-approved agreement that prohibits live-fire training in Makua Valley reflects a dissatisfaction with the Army's snail-paced effort to complete an environmental evaluation that was key to the pact.
Though it's true, as the Army points out, that the nation's military needs could not be anticipated at the time of the 2001 settlement, the problem is that the Army has not done what it said it would do. The agreement allowed the Army to conduct as many as 35 limited live-fire exercises through October 2004. During that time, it was to complete an environmental impact statement, but more than four years later, the work remains incomplete.
By contrast, the Army wrapped up its assessments for the more complex Stryker brigade in just two years. It appears that the Stryker review was put ahead of the Makua assessment.
Officers of the 25th Infantry Division say training for soldiers who will be deployed to Iraq this summer is necessary because new members have been added since the division's recent return from Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army's lawyer contends that even with training at other sites -- Pohakuloa on the Big Island and Schofield Barracks -- using Makua is essential to get all units through live-fire drills.
Exercises at Makua, which contains more than 100 archaeological and cultural sites important to the Hawaiian community and houses endangered native plants and animals, had been suspended in 1998 after fires, sparked by the Army's live-fire training, burned through the valley.
Malama Mauka subsequently filed suit, seeking thorough review of the effects of training, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks the community group properly recognized the need for training and signed on to the agreement.
The Army, however, has not lived up its end of the deal. Though it says the review will be completed this spring, its deadline of October 2004 has long passed. While allowing the Army reasonable accommodations, it's easy to understand the court's hesitation to consent to the 50 training missions the Army wants to conduct this year.
There is no doubt that the training "would ultimately save lives," as the 25th's Lt. Col. Mike Donnelly framed the argument, and no one wants green soldiers to land in Iraq without suitable experience. That said, the Army's dilemma falls to its own inaction. If Malama Makua reconsiders or the court sees justification for further concessions, both should demand the Army meet its obligations quickly.
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